What not to read

“Chick lit – shit lit”, and, “the sooner it dies the better” were among the comments on recent articles reporting a loss in sales of 10 per cent in the popular writing genre. Self-professed literary minds all over the country are seeing this demise in the genre as a welcome prospect. Yet as a literature student myself, I do not see the genre as such a scourge on our intellect; instead, this drop in sales feels like a negative turn.

As students, we are encouraged by peers and driven by our own sense of snobbery to shy away from “chic-lit”, as it does not fit within the acceptable realms of canonized literature. Despite this, as I haplessly tried to dig my way through Sir Gawain and The Green Knight whilst sitting on a beach this summer, I could not help wishing for a copy of something purely enjoyable for its own sake. It seems the condescending stigma attached to “beach” literature and other books targeting women today, has effected their readerships.

Refusing to support the vast range of books and authors that are grouped under this unfortunately derogatory term, women are not only reducing the amount they read, they are proving the doubters and the cynics right.

Only last month author Polly Courtney left her publishers, HarperCollins, due to the belief that her books were being mistakenly presented and marketed as “chick-lit”: surely only highlighting the idea that this is something to be ashamed of.

“Subjecting them to ridicule could lead to huge dip in sales”

“Chick-lit” signifies literature written specifically, but not exclusively, for women, by women. However, its boundaries are often crossed with that of “women’s fiction”. These can also be written by men, and often include topics other than love. However, women often dubbed as “chick-lit” writers are far from it: Jodie Picoult, for instance, as well as anyone who has ever read Nicholas Sparks, would arguably classify them as the former. It is not clean-cut at all.

A few years ago, after conducting a survey on reading patterns in the sexes, author Ian McEwan predicted that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” Men only account for 20 per cent of the fiction market. The audience for light, women’s fiction are women who read purely for enjoyment and relaxation. Yet with these figures, if we continue to subject them to ridicule, we could see a huge dip in book sales overall.
It is also important for scholars to remember that authors like Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot would most certainly come under the umbrella of “chick-lit” – after all, their storylines and ideas are akin to many recent fictional works of this genre. 200 years of hindsight and scholarly criticism may have granted them access into the literary canon, but at the time, one can only imagine how they were scorned by the men as pieces of unintellectual fluff.

I am not saying that every piece of fiction marketed as “chick-lit” is destined to be an eventual masterpiece, however, the term encompasses a genre so large, and represents such a chunk of the economy, that it cannot be merely cast aside as worthless. Even though they are the reading majority, the associated negative connotations have made women themselves feel uncomfortable with the label. This must stop.
Anyone professing to have any sort of literary knowledge must first understand the market, and in time appreciate – not necessarily read – what is out there. We are reminded in the wake of Banned Books week in the US about the freedom to read, and freedom of choice and expression. After all – surely there is nothing that cannot be learnt from an hour spent

One comment

  1. Finally. Your article fills in some of the “why” I started Heart Press this year. Pride & Prejudice would have sold billions with a pink beach scene cover…

    Polly Courtney’s cover is a mess and even her proposed title was hijacked from her. I congratulated her for quitting. Writers must control their career, otherwise marketers & accountants will dictate the creative process. -Steve

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